•The cassava is resistant to the Cassava Brown Streak disease which causes up to 100 per cent yield loss and hence a decline in productivity.
•The trials are being carried out at Kalro Mtwapa confined field site and the GM variety is likely to be released to farmers two to three years from now.
Scientists are seeking approval from the National Environmental Management Authority to plant genetically modified cassava.
Douglas Miano, the lead scientist of the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa Plus in Kenya said they have submitted Environmental Impact Assessment field trials and are currently waiting for approval.
He said that once approved, the scientists will proceed to carry out the national performance trials, and the seed will be available for multiplication and later released to the farmers.
He spoke Wednesday during a field visit at the GM cassava confined field trial site at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization–Mtwapa.
Miano said the GM cassava is resistant to the Cassava Brown Streak disease which causes up to 100 per cent yield loss and hence a decline in productivity.
He said the trials are being carried out at Kalro Mtwapa confined field site and the GM variety is likely to be released to farmers two to three years from now.
In March 2020, the Cabinet approved the commercial farming of BT Cotton (Genetically Modified Cotton).
The approval came after the successful completion of field trials that were conducted over five years.
According to data from Kalro, cassava is the second most important food crop after maize in the Coastal and Western regions.
Production and consumption of cassava in Kenya are at 60 per cent in the Western region, 30 per cent in the Coastal region and 10 per cent in the Eastern and Central regions.
Catherine Otaga, from Busia, said she has been growing cassava for ten 10 years and the Cassava Brown Streak disease has been a nightmare.
“We have been struggling with cassava disease and this has reduced production over time. The disease can sometimes destroy the whole crop and a farmer only gets to realize that the crop has been affected when harvesting,” she said.
Miano said to address this problem, researchers from Kalro and other institutions are using modern biotechnology to develop CBSD-resistant cassava line 4046.
He said following multiple cropping cycles over more than five years of field testing in Kenya, and extensive safety studies, the application for environmental release (open field cultivation) of CBSD-resistant cassava line 4046 was submitted by Kalro to the National Biosafety Authority of Kenya in March 2019.
“An approval was granted in June 2021. The approval paves way for conducting national performance trails before registration and release to farmers,” he said.
Miano said the CBSD resistance in cassava was developed by an international collaboration between Kalro, the National Agricultural Research Organisation of Uganda and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in the USA.
He said researchers introduced a small part of the two viruses that cause CBSD into the cassava plant to make it resistant.
“This process activates a naturally occurring plant defence mechanism present in the plants allowing them to resist the disease,” he said.
He said the brown streak-resistant cassava line was evaluated over five years in confined field trials in five locations in Kenya and Uganda, where it showed high and stable defence against the diseases.
Edited by Kiilu Damaris